Due to a store closure caused by COVID-19, difficulty in replacing an optician who left and the pending retirement of owner Patrick O'Neill, Vision will close July 11 and merge with River Valley Eye Professionals on Heritage Drive and Jefferson Road. (Sam Wilmes/Northfield News) 

After serving as a place for unique eyewear for six years in downtown Northfield, Vision will close July 11 and merge into River Valley Eye Professionals.

Owner Patrick O’Neill said the reasons behind the pending closure include the impact of COVID-19, which kept the store shuttered since March. It has also proven difficult to replace an optician who left approximately a year ago.

“I just thought with the COVID thing hitting and not being able to find proper staff, it’s time,” O’Neill said.

“Too many things happening at once.”

Vision’s business plan has been considered difficult in the eyewear industry as customers tend to be wary of trying unique eyewear. O’Neill noted Vision staff rarely ordered the same frame twice.

Vision has served as a way to increase downtown revenue from customers who, without the store, would be more likely to travel to the Twin Cities suburbs for trendy eyewear.

Vision, which opened in 2014 at 425 Division St. S, will be incorporated into the existing River Valley Eye Professionals on Heritage Drive and Jefferson Road near Community Resource Bank and Heritage Dental. The two stores were considered to be under the same company and ownership. Nathan Heilman took control of the River Valley clinic Monday when O’Neill retired.

“The River Valley Clinic is not going away anytime soon,” O’Neill said.

Heilman said he’s “always admired Pat (O'Neill) for the legacy he’s built,” and for his reputation as being well-respected and well-regarded professionally and personally. He said he feels the onus to carry on that legacy.

Heilman sees the professional approach of his father, a Madison, South Dakota-based physician, in the way O’Neill ran the businesses, based on the public trust they both have enjoyed.

Heilman noted River Valley will seek to keep as much of the eyewear selection Vision had as possible.

“It was a nice store”

As the store’s closing date nears on July 11, O’Neill said his biggest regret is having to leave downtown.

“It was a nice store for our town,” he said. “It was a great location and a great place to be for that kind of store.”

He added the store wasn’t in competition with others in the community and was starting to get a a substantial number of out-of-town visitors prior to the coronavirus shutdown. Despite that, O’Neill believes even after economic conditions improve, finding eyewear will feel relatively unimportant for consumers beginning to spend money again.

O’Neill said an unidentified business has expressed interest in operating within the building.

A Michigan native, O’Neill was an undergraduate student at St. Thomas University. After receiving his doctorate, O’Neill started his private practice in 1983 in Northfield. He joined Allina Medical Group in 1992, and in 2004, started River Valley Vision Centers, which became River Valley Eye Professionals in 2012. He plans to stay in Northfield after he retires but will spend more time in Montana, a state he has grown to enjoy.

“It’s been a great town,” he said of Northfield. “The people are just really wonderful. It’s been a great run for me.”

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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